An Auspicious Start: NaNo 2016

I approach every NaNo season with a mix of excitement and apprehension. This year, those feelings are even more so. My last book, The Blood Contract, was released November of 2014. In the two years since, I’ve written a total of three chapters, if that. I have no great excuse for my absence from writing. I believe in part I’ve been in a quasi state of mourning, lamenting the loss of my daughter who was moved across the state after my divorce 3 years ago. I dealt with the situation the best I could on my own and, failing that, I turned to drugs. No, not the good kind that may have actually helped, but rather the prescription sort my counselor and I thought might get me through. Whatever good they did me, they also served to wholly seal off my creative thoughts. I spent many months unable to write a paragraph or a verse. Not to make it sound overly melodramatic, but losing my creative mind felt like losing a good portion of myself. I decided I would rather deal with the panic attacks and mental fatigue than lose myself again.

It took months and no small amount of effort but I managed to regain who I was. It came about first in songs, as a lyric would pop into my head, accompanied by a melody. Before long, I had recorded my first song in months and had many more verses and tunes at the ready. Working on my books took a little longer. A song is nice because on a good night, I can spend a few hours and have something tangible I can listen to. It may simply be a draft, but it’s something I can enjoy. Books are longer, more time-consuming and in some ways, have less of a reward. I reread my stories because I’m editing or rewriting them. Not, generally, because I intend to enjoy them over and over, unlike my songs.

But the music served as inspired lubrication for my mind and soon, I found myself mentally prepared to write. Any quiet moment (and some not so quiet), plots and characters and dialogue and scenes churned away in the back of my mind, puzzling out dilemmas, interacting in ways I hadn’t before considered. It was the way my brain typically worked, the way it had always functioned for as long as I can remember. It felt like home again.

Though my mind was willing, time was not so giving. During the sabbatical I had taken for my mental well-being, I had shifted jobs. Though this came with some advantages and seemed to me to be the next logical step forward, it was also burdened with one huge caveat: no more lunch time. Ergo, no more time to write at work.

I tried to write at home but found myself too easily distracted. It’s hard to focus on plots when a cat is crawling all over me and when my guitar is sitting there, just begging to be played. I considered writing at work after I was done for the night, but often my days were 10-12 hours long, and I found I just didn’t have the desire after staring at a computer screen all day.

I say all this because it is the past. I am determined now to get my life back in hand. There are so many ways I’ve let it slip away from me, but writing is something I can not and will not sacrifice. I wrote long before I ever decided to publish, and if I was forbidden from publishing ever again, I would continue to write. It is the steam I vent to keep the pressure within me from building, the spark of sanity that sends the dark creatures within me scurrying.

With that in mind, I decided NaNo 2016 would serve as my rebirth.

For those of you not familiar with the idea, NaNoWriMo is a sort of self-imposed contest writers take in an attempt to finish 50,000 words during the month of November. It has to be a new book, one that hasn’t been worked on previously, though the author is allowed to sketch out plotlines and characters ahead of time. I’ve participated since 2010 and have only passed it once. In 2012, with World of Shadows, the third book in the Unseen Things series. Then, it was known as a trilogy and when I published the second book, The Shadow Within, I was sure the third was soon to follow. In the four years since, I have rewritten several chapters of the book and split it into two.

For the past two years, I’ve had all but the last few chapters written in World of Shadows. I apologize to those who have been waiting for it. I decided to focus on AfterLife, the fifth Only Human on the Block book after the release of The Blood Contract, because I was on a roll and the ideas were coming hot and heavy. But then the mental funk hit and… well, I’ve already explained that in detail. Suffice it to say, the last two years have not been among my best.

I wrestled with the thought of which book to work on for NaNo this year. I even made a list of potential titles, listing the pros and cons of each. In the end, the answer seemed obvious. The book to bring me back into writing, back to NaNo, should be the follow-up to the one I went out on. Even though I haven’t yet finished the last few chapters of World of Shadows, I know and have known exactly how it will end. And the fourth book comes with a substantial time jump and a POV shift (each of the books in the series have been from a different POV), which was the reason I wanted to split the third book into two in the first place. So I came to find myself typing the words TWIN SHADOWS BY S.L. MADDEN to begin my foray into NaNodom.

Or rather, I would have, except my computer booted up with a blue screen of death. I fired up the laptop while I ran a restore on my desktop. Ultimately, it worked and my PC was usable (meanwhile, the laptop was still loading Windows…sigh), but by then, I was out of time and had to get ready for work. Not the best first day of NaNo.

Between home and work, however, I came to a decision I had been mulling over for awhile. I decided to take a lunch break.

I’d considered it before but told myself I’m already working long enough hours. Why prolong them? Yet giving myself an hour to write not only helped me accomplish my daily word count (well, close enough), it helped give my brain a little breather. It’s too early to tell if it’ll help long-term, but short-term, I’m willing to give it a try. As a result, I have 1482 words written. And I feel great.

I’m going to finish NaNo this year. I’m going to finish World of Shadows and finally publish it alongside Twin Shadows. And I’m going to complete AfterLife (I haven’t forgotten that book, I promise!). I suppose it could be argued the 1200 or so words I typed here would have been better spent working on the book, but I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to blog. I’ve been out of touch in more ways than one, so I wanted to reach out once more before I immerse myself back into writing.

As always, thanks for reading (and for your patience),

 

S.L. Madden

Give It Away Now

It’s my birthday tomorrow (the 20th) and I’ve decided to celebrate by getting my Oprah. In other words, you get a book! You get a book! You get a book!

What kind of madness is this, do you ask? Could it be a sign I’m losing my mind? Possibly. Whatever the cause, The Four-Year-Old Guardian, Bravado/Dramatique, Together Alone, The Shadow Walker, The Shadow Within, and Ascension will all be free this weekend only, 8/20-8/21. Sadly, The Blood Contract won’t be part of this giveaway (but I have it on good authority it’s well worth the asking price of $2.99).

But Steve, you might be saying, you’ve put years and countless hours into these books. Do you really want to just give them all away for nothing? To which I say…well, when you put it like that….

In all honestly, when I started publishing, I never saw this as a get rich quick scheme. More like a means to support my affection for gas station burritos. I’m just honored to be able to share my books with the world. And if you insist on paying for the book with a  review (favorable or otherwise), it certainly won’t break my heart.

This also marks the end of me using Amazon exclusively for my books, so this will be the last time I’m able to do a giveaway such as this (and the reason why The Blood Contract is excluded. I didn’t realize I’d never enrolled it in Select). In the next few weeks, my books should be rolling out to other markets. So get ’em while they’re hot (and free)!

As always, thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

 

 

Five Years Ago

My Facebook memories page reminded me that five years ago today, I published The Four-Year-Old Guardian. It, along with Ascension, marked my foray into the world of self-publishing. It was a huge step forward for me, what I felt was the next logical step after being in writing groups since high school and putting my works out there on sites such as Authonomy.

For those of you who follow this blog, it’s no secret I haven’t been quite as prolific of late. My last book, The Blood Contract, came out at the end of 2014. I wrote a little last year but it was nowhere near my usual output. This was due to a combination of personal issues, misguided attempts to medicate and a shift in my schedule. I spent last year losing myself as a writer and I’ve spent 2016 so far trying to rediscover myself.

I can’t say I’ve been resoundingly successful but I do feel like I’ve rekindled (no pun intended) the writer’s spark within me. Though I’m far from ready to release my next book, I have been making progress. By my estimates, I’m currently a third of the way through AfterLife, the fifth and final book in the Only Human on the Block series (though I should point out here it is also a gateway book to a connected trilogy. I mention it because when I brought that up to my mother the other day, she seemed surprised by that fact). I haven’t been writing as much as I had in the past, but when I do sit down and focus, I’m rather proud of what I’m producing.

On the other hand, I’m in limbo on The Shadow Without or World of Shadows or whatever I end up calling it. I’ve been a few chapters away from finishing the rough draft for… well, when I first wrote it, I was inspired by the Obama/Romney campaign. So closing on four years. Damn.

I must admit, it’s gone through a lot of tweaks in that time. I changed it from third-person originally to first (don’t ask what I was thinking initially). I also took what was going to be one big book and separated it into two smaller books. As a result, my original ending doesn’t quite work, fails to have the impact I want it to have. I’m not sure why I’ve been struggling so much to end that third book. I have a pretty firm idea of how I want it to end. I just… haven’t.

That’ll change this year though. I’m determined to release whatever this book will be called in 2016, and if not AfterLife, I’ll get a good chunk of it done for a 2017 release. I owe it to my fans and, frankly, to myself. Five years ago I took my first steps in this journey. I may have wandered off the path for awhile, but it’s time I get back to it.

Still, even despite my prolonged absence, I’ve managed in the space of five years to produce The Four-Year-Old Guardian, Bravaado/Dramatique, Together Alone, The Blood Contract, The Shadow Walker, The Shadow Within, and Ascension. Seven books I’m rather proud of, in addition to a smattering of other stories I’ve started. I’m looking forward to seeing what I can put out in the next five years.

As always, thanks for reading (and for the support),

S.L. Madden

PS. In celebration of this five-year landmark, I’ll have the ebook of The Four-Year-Old Guardian available through Amazon for free starting tomorrow, 7/30 through Monday, 8/1.

 

 

 

 

The Shadow Without – The End (Or Rather, The Beginning)

This month marks my the fourth anniversary since I first went into self-publishing. Both Ascension and The Four-Year-Old Guardian were originally released in June 2011. Since then, I’ve managed to put out five other books. Not too shabby considering I work a full-time job and I’m categorically lazy when it comes to writing.

The other book I put out in 2011 was The Shadow Walker, the first of what I thought was going to be a trilogy. The sequel,The Shadow Within, was released in 2013 and I immediately started working on the third and final book. It didn’t take me long to realize this trilogy was destined to become a quadrilogy. I finished the rough draft of the third book (once called World of Shadows, now tentatively called The Shadow Without), then… nothing.

Two years have passed and while I’ve made considerable changes to that rough draft, it has taken far longer than I anticipated. Part of this delay is due to the fact I focused on finishing and releasing The Blood Contract then immediately started working on its follow-up, AfterLife. After giving it some serious thought, I decided I had done the fans of the Unseen Things series an injustice in making them wait so long. As a result, I’ve decided to renew my effort to finish The Shadow Without and get it released this year.

To reward my loyal readers for their patience, I’ve decided to share the opening chapter here. This is still a rough draft, mind you, so while I’ve gone over it a few times, it may not be without errors and there’s a possibility it will change some before publication. I believe in its current form, it helps answer some questions about the fallout after the end of the second book, while setting the stage for things to come.

Also, both The Shadow Walker and The Shadow Within will be free for Kindle devices and apps this Saturday the 13th through Monday the 15th, so if you haven’t had a chance to pick up your copy yet, this is the perfect chance.

As always, thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

(Please note, both The Shadow Without and Twin Shadows will feature dual first-person views, indicated by the name at the beginning of the chapter).

Chapter One

The End 

~Leonard~

I sat on the edge of the bed in my hotel room, feeling the weight of the world perched on my shoulders. Alternating waves of pink and green neon light washed in from the outside, penetrating the thin blinds covering the windows. It lent an eerie glow to the small space, making it seem otherworldly.

As well it should. This place, inside and out, was foreign to me. I could walk the streets of Las Vegas for an hour and still be amazed at my surroundings. The lights, the traffic, the atmosphere…it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.

It was as good a place as any to do what I knew needed to be done.

I turned the bottle of pills I held in my right hand, so I could read the label. The medicine was prescribed to help fight anxiety and panic attacks. I had other plans for it.

Knowing it was futile, I tried to grip the childproof cap with my left hand, cursing when my fingers refused to cooperate. I twisted and turned, attempting to hold the bottle between my legs so I could use my good right hand, but I couldn’t get a tight enough grip.

I sensed movement in the shadows at the periphery of the room, where the neon failed to illuminate, and I knew time was running short. I made another desperate attempt with my ruined hand before letting out a guttural yell and smashing the bottle against the edge of the nightstand. A crack appeared in the orange plastic so I struck it again and again, until there was a hole big enough for the pills to spill out onto the dingy carpet.

Feeling around in the dark, I grabbed a handful of the medicine and held it before me. I knew this was for the best, but still, I hesitated. Memories flashed through my mind: finding Jess lying in a pool of her own blood only minutes after I’d agreed to let everyone know about our relationship. After all, if she was right, it was only a matter of time before people started questioning who the father of her child was. I remembered her perfect skin, torn, a jagged red smile marring her throat. The Watchtower, set aflame. The realization Thomas was still inside and the only person who truly understood what I’d gone through in Shading was lost. Then, just as I was starting to process it all, a helicopter roared overhead as if to mock me, followed by an explosion and screams from The Irenae. Our only way off the island was destroyed.

In one night, I lost everything.

I wandered around in the dark of night, barely aware of anything other than the pain taking hold of me. I felt drunk on misery, twisted and chewed up on the inside. Somehow, I made it to the beach where Allison had washed up, and it was there I found the blade embedded in the sand. It took me a moment to process what I was looking at, for my traumatized mind to piece together what it meant.

I fell to my knees, both wracked with guilt and bolstered by new determination.

At first, I thought perhaps Allison Bramer had been in The Watchtower with Thomas. I found out later they only found one body inside and one below, and that belonged to one of my guards, Slack. Seeing the blade cinched in my mind what I’d always known to be true: Allison was a murderer, sent to be our undoing. I’d had her in my grasp the entire time, but let Thomas’ affections for the girl color my judgment.

“Never again,” I said, my voice hoarse. Without giving it another thought, I popped four of the pills in my mouth and grabbed a beer. It was warm and bitter, but I chugged it down, letting it carry the medicine with it. I put the unfinished drink on the nightstand and waited.

“I let her kill them,” I said, the effects of the pills and alcohol already conspiring together to make me dizzy. I wanted nothing more than to lie down and close my eyes, but instead I stared at my left hand, the twisted digits bent at sharp angles a constant reminder of my failure.

We took a day off to mourn our dead, but knew we had to do something fast or we risked dying out there. Supplies were finite, and without The Irenae and the continued support of the government (assuming that had been Agent Boehler’s helicopter), we were left on our own. No communication devices, no way to travel off the island, no ties to the outside world. Thomas, Jess, Slack and Patch might have been murdered outright, but the rest of us were left to die slow, horrible deaths.

I wasn’t particularly handy with tools myself, but fortunately we had a rather generous talent pool on the island. Dr. Murray, in addition to being a gifted physician, knew a bit about working with wood, some knowledge passed down from his father. One of the girls they had working in the kitchen, Sadie, turned out to be an engineer and Stormy, the captain of The Irenae, was fortunate enough to survive the attack on her ship, even if her deckhands hadn’t been. Together, with the assistance of every able-bodied person on the island, we constructed a make-shift canoe using tree branches, duct tape and wire from the ruined communication room.

We did a test launch, traveling from Patterson Bay to the other side of the island and back. The vessel held up better than expected and even though we had yet to test it in deep waters, I made the executive decision to chance it. With some supplies in tow and Stormy to help me navigate, we set out on the ocean, promising the others we’d send help after we found the mainland.

I swallowed hard, my head swimming. Even though I was sitting, I felt as if I might fall down. The world spun around so fast, it was all I could do to keep the pills from coming back up.

After being adrift for several days on the ocean, convinced we were lost, we finally found our way to the mainland. Stormy was appropriately smug, though we were both malnourished and highly dehydrated. Our supplies hadn’t lasted the duration of the whole journey, but I was in much better shape than she. Until I laid eyes on the mainland, I feared I might have to give her to the ocean she loved so much.

It took some time to convince the locals I could be trusted. They asked for Thomas, and when I let them know the fate that had befallen him, they looked at me with mistrusting eyes. Finally, I met Mr. Morijo, a local businessman who not only offered his condolences but promised to send a ship to pick up the others. He provided us a hot meal and a place to stay. I gladly took up his offer, and in the morning, asked for even more.

“I need a boat to America,” I said, finishing up the last of the sausage and eggs he’d made for breakfast.

“That’s no small trip, friend,” Mr. Morijo said, patting his lips clean with his napkin. “That is hardly a regular journey for us. I would be at risk to lose a ship, my crew, not to mention catching the attention of the Coast Guard, which I most certainly do not want.”

“I understand,” I said.

The older man fixed a scrutinizing gaze on me. “And what is so important in America I should do this thing for you?”

“Revenge.”

The next morning, I was on a small boat with a crew of three other men, headed toward Florida.

Though the journey took several more days, it was much easier going than travelling via raft had been. We had food and drink aplenty, so that wasn’t an issue. The other men spoke little English, but that was all right. I wasn’t feeling very talkative myself. I just hoped Mr. Morijo was able to uphold his agreement to rescue those still trapped on Madison Island.

Giving in, I laid back, letting the bed cushion my fall. My hand came down and hit the remote, turning on the old-fashioned console TV in the corner of the room. Through the haze clouding my senses, I saw her on the television, talking to a reporter. The volume was down, so I couldn’t hear what she was saying, but it was her.

“Allison,” I croaked. But no, it wasn’t Allison at all.

Unable to keep my head up to see the television, I sank further into the bed. The lights from the television and my altered consciousness made the darkness of the ceiling move and writhe, like a living, breathing thing.

I felt it closing in on me, the edges of my life growing darker, darker. I knew if I closed my eyes, it would be all over. I’d pass on in my sleep, never to wake again. It was a better end than Thomas and Jess were given.

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt myself fading. I wanted to hold on, to stay lucid for the moment it happened. I owed it to them.

After reaching Florida, I immediately sought out Allison, which turned out to not be so difficult. She had become a local celebrity of sorts when she came back, but where her popularity started out with her being questioned by the media why she had stayed in Jamaica—which was nothing short of a lie—she had since become very politically active. Watching her on TV, smiling during interviews and talking about her hopes for the future, it was all I could do to keep from throwing something through the screen.

I tracked her down at a rally, surrounded by others showing their support for Christopher Stone, an independent candidate. I bided my time, trying to appear nonchalant while absently fingering the blade in my coat pocket, reminding myself it was still there. As far as I was concerned, Jess and Thomas would only be avenged once Allison paid the ultimate price.

After the rally, I followed her down an alleyway, into a building that looked to be empty. It couldn’t be more perfect. I was prepared to go to prison for enacting revenge—ready, even, to pay the ultimate price—but if I was able to do it in private without getting caught, all the better.

I found her standing on a landing overlooking a production floor that was currently shut down. Closing my fist around the hilt of my knife, I crept forward, even as I wondered if I should stab her in the back or make my presence known so she would know who it was who had brought justice.

I didn’t get a chance to find out.

“This is my parent’s factory,” she said, her back still to me. “We operate it on weekdays, but not the weekends. Trying to keep costs down with the current economic crisis and all. It’s not good for the employees who were counting on the hours, but it’s better than having the whole thing shut down, don’t you think?”

She turned to me and I felt my pulse quicken. A few steps and one thrust of my blade and it’d be all over. But I hesitated.

“Oh, God,” I moaned, wailing to the pervasive darkness as I lay on the hotel bed. “Why did I hesitate?”

I knew the answer before I asked the question, but it didn’t make it any easier. After watching her for so long at the rally, I had failed to notice the slight bulge of her belly.

“I’m starting to show, aren’t I?” she said, rubbing her stomach. “Little guy is growing so fast.”

“Is that…?” I couldn’t bring myself to ask the question. The answer was irrelevant. I had a mission to accomplish.

Besides, she took my child from me. This is simply poetic justice.

“Yes, it’s Thomas’. It’s a shame little Malcolm will never get to know his daddy.” She cast her gaze down, as if filled with sorrow, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

“You killed him. Not only Thomas, but Jess and Slack.”

“I did what had to be done,” she said, remorse gone from her features. “You’re not the only person who lost someone. In the process, my poor, dear sister Allison was taken from me.”

She’s just talking crazy, I thought. Trying to confuse me. I need to kill her now while I have the chance.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, my grip so tight on the knife handle I thought it might break and splinter.

“Two souls, trapped in one body. Allison had control for the longest time, except for when she didn’t. Then I took over. By the way, I don’t think we’ve had an opportunity to meet. My name is Megan.” She offered her hand as if expecting me to take it. Instead, I stared at her in wide-eyed disbelief.

“Megan?” I said, trying to process what she’d said. I had spent days chasing what I was sure was nothing but a ghost. But if what she said was true….

“Allison didn’t know she did those things?”

“Not a clue,” Megan said. “When she blacked out, I took over. I tell you what, I had to accomplish a lot with the little bit of time I was given. But I kept my eye on the goal. I was promised if I followed through, I would be able to take control permanently. My masters didn’t let me down. Tell me, Leonard, what is your goal?”

“I’m here to kill you,” I said without hesitation, but when I tried to swallow, I found nothing but dryness in my throat. My hand flexed around the hilt of the knife and I wished I had the advantage of distance a gun would offer over that of a blade.

No, I thought. This is how she killed Jess. She deserves no better.

I took a step forward, waiting for some reaction from her other than the smile that seemed plastered to her face. If she were one of the Uracai, I had no way of knowing what she was capable of. I remembered my own father, shot full of holes yet still on the attack. There was a good possibility she might be too much for me to handle. If so, I was prepared to die, so long as I took her with me.

I took another step and another. She made no move to defend herself or to flee. Nothing. This is too easy, I thought, but knew that was never the case.

As I came within striking distance, the smile slid from her expression. “Really, Leonard? You’re going to kill a woman with child? Is this what humans do?”

“If you’ve got one of those shadows in you, you’re not human and neither will that baby be,” I said, trying to convince myself as much as her. The hilt of the knife seemed to burrow into the flesh of my palm but I squeezed tighter, tighter….

“That’s no way to talk about the son of your friend,” she scolded. “Speaking of friends….”

There was movement in my periphery, and before I could process it, I was flanked on both sides. Trying to capitalize on what little advantage I had left, I lashed out with the blade. Before it struck home, someone to my right moved quickly, blocking the blow.

The blade penetrated the stranger’s hand, sticking there, lodged in flesh and bone. It belonged to a teenage boy.

I stared in horror as he yanked the weapon from my grip and, without flinching, pulled the blade from his hand. Blood spilled from the open wound, but he casually wiped the knife off on his pants before tossing it to the ground.

Someone grabbed my left hand and squeezed. Pain shot through my arm and I yelped before I could stop myself. The attacker continued to crush my hand and I heard the sound of bone snapping in their grip. I dropped to my knee, unable to stand the pain.

Gritting my teeth, I looked up to see my assailant. She was a young girl in her late teens, with perfectly sculpted blond hair, bright blue eyes and the kind of face that automatically put her in the popular cliques. A pink scarf was tied around her neck, giving her an air of innocence. Her expression was anything but, however, as she stared down at me with cold indifference. I had the distinct impression she felt absolutely nothing about the pain she caused me. No pleasure, no regret.

Desperate, I reached up, trying to do something to stop her, but the young man at my side grabbed my right arm. Fortunately, he didn’t put the squeeze on me like the girl had. I was fairly sure he would have been able to snap it off.

“You don’t seem to like that,” Megan said, looking down at me. “I can make it stop. All of it. Can you imagine what life would be like free of pain?”

“No,” I said through my teeth. “Life is pain.”

“Perhaps for you humans.”

Megan motioned to the girl gripping my hand and she let go and took a step back. I cradled my damaged hand, looking in horror from it to the girl as she slowly unwound the scarf. She kept her eyes locked with mine as she revealed the jagged hole marking her throat. The skin around the wound was puckered and frayed like a hole in cloth.

“Tell me, Brittney, did that hurt when it happened?” Megan asked. “Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot you can’t tell me anything.”

Megan beamed down at me as I struggled to keep from crying out at the pain shooting through my hand. The bones felt crushed, splintered and it was impossible to move my fingers.

“You could have all of this, but I don’t think you’re worthy.” She leaned down, gripping my face in her hand. “And when this child comes, the whole human race will fall and you’ll be helpless to keep the world from crumbling all around you. Just like you couldn’t save Thomas or that pathetic excuse for a girlfriend, Jess.” She released her hold on me and, unable to keep my balance, I fell back onto my butt.

“The world belongs to us, now, Leonard. Feel free to warn everybody you think will listen, but I caution you to be mindful of who you tell. After all, you have a history. Just ask anyone who remembers Shading.”

She stepped around me and her friends followed. For the first time, I noticed there had been two others in the room, another teen girl and a boy.

I couldn’t even make it past two of them, I told myself, forcing the thought through the pain flooding my mind. I’m outnumbered and out powered.

“Just remember,” Megan said, pausing at the door for a moment, “our kind is everywhere. You can’t see us, you can’t fight us. And every time one of you falls, one of us rises.”

Her words hung in the air long after she’d gone.

“I can fight you,” I said, the hotel room circling around me. “I can.”

I felt the darkness drawing me in and I pushed back, not ready to go yet. The pills and the alcohol were too much for me to handle and coldness embraced me, dragging me down…down….

Despite the haze surrounding my mind, I was fully aware when my heart slowed, barely beating at all. I struggled to breathe, but it felt as if something was inside my throat, preventing any air from moving. My attempts to sit up were unsuccessful. My limbs were dead weights determined to drag me down further in the darkness.

The shadows at the edge of the room moved. At first, I thought it was my eyes playing tricks on me, as my sight blurred then righted itself. I refused to give in, focusing everything I had left on my vision. The shadows were definitely moving, and now I saw the whites of one of their eyes. It was bright, so bright it seemed impossible to behold, yet there it was, staring at me.

The thing slid from the wall to the floor, where I lost sight of it. Disappointment bubbled up through the mire. I’d waited so long to see one of the things that had altered my life so drastically, I wanted to be able to stare it down. Squeezing my eyes shut, I thought it might be all over, but my lids snapped open as I felt…something move up my leg.

The creature was lying flat on my chest, its eyes burning into mine. Despite it all, I smiled. “I see you.”

I felt my heart beat its last as the thing shot forward, grabbing my lips and forcing itself into my mouth. I thought I might choke or suffocate, but the need to breathe was no longer there. I felt all of my bodily functions shut down, one after another, like rows of lights in a factory. With a great sigh, my mind purged all thoughts simultaneously, in a great rush. Even removed as I was from mind and body, I felt something within, like a light bulb filament flickering, set to die out.

My vision faded. It was almost all blackness, absolute nothingness. At the last moment, a surge of white light rushed out, forming a sort of tunnel before me. Everything I was, my entire being, was ripped from me, scooped from my body, leaving it hollowed out like a pumpkin on Halloween night.

There was no light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel itself was light—my light—and I watched it extend out from me.

I was only barely aware of movement and shouting as a figure emerged from the dark and placed something on my chest. Someone else approached the right side of the bed. I knew who they were and why they were there, but the knowledge was disconnected, inconsequential.

Someone somewhere said something and a surge of electricity coursed through me, frying me from the inside. The shadow within screamed as it raked at my insides, its ethereal claws passing harmlessly through my innards. Another burst of energy, another unworldly howl, and I felt my heart beat as I snapped back into my body.

The white tunnel of light before me narrowed, becoming a pinpoint. The shadow creature forced its way through my mouth, a look of horror in its bright, unblinking eyes.

“Clear!” a female voice shouted. This time I had no trouble hearing her.

I felt another surge flow through me and I jerked, twisted. I tried to tell her it was enough, that I could handle it from there, but the words wouldn’t come.

The last shock severed the creature from me altogether, and I watched it snake away, a mere sliver of what it had once been.

My victory was short-lived as something was forced into my mouth. I swallowed out of instinct, not having the energy to fight it off. The effect was immediate and I started gagging.

Someone grabbed my head and forced it one side, just in time to place the bucket to my mouth. I heaved once before expelling what felt like everything I’d ever eaten all at once. When I was sure I was empty inside, I heaved again and again. My esophagus burned, my body shook with the effort, but I kept at it until I was absolutely sure I was done.

Finished, I leaned back, exhausted. Someone wiped the vomit from my lips. I was too tired to insist otherwise. They offered me a drink of water and I sipped. Even the cool liquid burned on the way down.

“Drink up,” a female voice said, offering me more water. I tried to focus on her face, but my vision was still blurred.

“Are you okay?” another voice asked.

My lips moved, but I couldn’t get the words past the pain I felt in my throat. Instead, I nodded.

“You’d better take this,” the first voice said. She forced a pill into my mouth and I took another gulp of water, wincing as I felt it travel all the way down.

The figures came into focus as Sophie kneeled next to Tara, who had set aside my vomit bucket and was placing a cool cloth against my forehead.

“You’re a damn fool,” Sophie said, packing up the portable defibrillator. “I hope it was worth it.”

I felt drained, a pathetic shell of my former self…a shadow. But I was more than that. I was no longer alone.

Looking around the room, I saw four pairs of burning white eyes staring at me, one of which belonged to a shadow that was significantly smaller than the rest.

My shadow, I thought.

Despite it all, I grinned.

“I can see you,” I croaked, pushing aside the pain and feeling of nausea. This was my moment of triumph and I would relish it. I’d lost everything to these things.

I can see you, I repeated in my head. I’m going to hunt every one of you bastards down and there’s nowhere you can hide. Not anymore.

Catching Up

Hello, old friends. Old as in we’ve been friends for a while. I’m not making any kind of commentary about your ages. After all, none of us have ever been this old before. Nor shall we ever be this young again.

I know it’s been a long time since I last posted anything here, so it would stand to reason I might have some grand announcement to make, such as I finished AfterLife and The Shadow Without and they will both be available soon!

Well….

I haven’t been quite as productive as I would have liked. After going back and forth between which of my next two books to focus on, I ultimately decided on The Shadow Without (The Shadow Within came out nearly two years ago, whereas The Blood Contract came out just last November). I sent the first 12 chapters to a dedicated reader who I trust to go over (hi, Mom!) and I’ve nearly powered through the chapters I’ve been meaning to add since finishing the rough draft for NaNo in 2013. After this, I just have to rewrite the end and tweak the remaining chapters. It won’t be terribly soon but I remain optimistic it will be out before the end of the year.

I haven’t touched AfterLife since I decided to focus on The Shadow Without. Fortunately, I had a pretty good run on it before I decided to switch gears. If I had to guess, I’d say the rough draft is maybe 20-25% done. Though it’s unlikely I’ll finish it this year, I’m going to give it my all after The Shadow Without is published (and once I’m done with my NaNo book). So if I can’t get it out by the end of the year, 2016 is pretty much a guarantee.

Of course, I haven’t been totally screwing around these last few months. I recently went through and helped to edit one of my mom’s upcoming books (that would be Swagon Drorn by Mickee Madden). I’ve also been kind of sort of working on a bit of a concept album (still very much in the rudimentary stages). I’m also about halfway through a short erotica story I intend to expand into a series. Plus life and junk.

To sum it up: I’m still alive, I’m still working and I’m still as slow as ever. As they say, good things come to those who wait. And I do know I’ve left you all waiting.

Thanks for reading,

S.L. Madden

Epiphanies In B

I’ve often said it’s impossible for me to get bored. While the advent of the smart phone (and my subsequent loss when I don’t have mine) might disagree, I truly believe I could go for days, weeks, maybe even months with no other distractions other than the machinations of my brain.

The reason being it’s constantly working, devoting an impressive amount of my mental resources toward working on stories (or songs, when I’m in that particular mood). As a result, I sometimes find inspiration comes at the oddest of times. Sometimes it’s the drive from home when a certain song comes on that makes me recreate scene (or create them spontaneously) based upon the feelings it invokes. All too often back in the day, it happened during school, when I was supposed to paying attention. Many plot lines and song lyrics originated while my teachers desperately sought to fill my young head with knowledge.

A particular source of inspiration is the bathroom.

Perhaps it’s the fact I’m relegated to a simple sitting position, transforming my usually kinetic body into one of rest. Maybe it’s the drive to put my mind in another place while my body fulfills its biological destiny. Either way, I have had many breakthroughs while trapped atop that porcelain prison.

And so it was a few days ago when I nearly shot to my feet and cried out, “Eureka!” Fortunately, I relegated myself to a simple fist pump and a whispered, “Yes!” (I was in a public bathroom, after all).

I finished the rough draft of  The Shadow Without (I think that’s what I’m calling it this week) a few years back for NaNo and I’ve been trying to get back to it ever since. After completing The Shadow Within in 2013, I was determined the sequel would be out in short order. Here I am, 1.5 years later, and I’m still struggling to finish the final rough draft. I know what needs to happen, where it’s all headed, but I’ve found myself…blocked. Yes, I’ll use that word, even though I like to think myself immune from the dreaded writer’s block (or at the very least, I always have another project to work on if I find myself stuck).

The funny thing is, the epiphany that came to me was not for The Shadow Without, but rather, the final book in the series, Twin Shadows. Again, I know where that book is going, how it starts and, roughly, how it ends. But there were pieces of the puzzle missing, things I knew I’d need to figure out eventually.

And there, in that stall, I figured them out.

Well, some of them anyway.

Interestingly enough, I hadn’t been concerned about those pieces. My mental resources have been slaving away on AfterLife and, to a lesser extent, The Shadow Without.

Or so I thought.

Somehow, this piece of the puzzle made itself known, and suddenly, a lot of other pieces made sense. So much so, I had to wonder if I hadn’t thought of it before and forgotten, while subconsciously arranging the story to still accommodate it. And then, completely unexpected to me, pieces of The Shadow Without started falling into place, pieces I had no idea were missing. It seems my blockage stemmed from events so far in the future, I hadn’t given them much thought (although clearly my brain was).

Now that they’re cleared up, however, the ideas are flowing fast and furious.

I love writing.

As always, thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

PS. I sincerely apologize for writing a blog post about sitting on the toilet and using phrasing such as “blockage” and “flowing fast and furious”.

Choose Your Own Adventure

As of yesterday, I have crossed the 30K word threshold on AfterLife. I realize that is still well shy of the 50K goal I was shooting for in November for NaNo, but it’s still nice to see some forward momentum on the series. Fortunately, the pieces have been falling into place rather well, even as new parts of the puzzle present themselves. At this rate, I feel fairly comfortable saying I’ll be able to wrap up this book–and this series–exactly the way I intended.

But while progress is being made on AfterLife, the other iron I currently have in the fire has been largely ignored. When I published The Shadow Within back in August of 2013 (has it really been that long?) I promised the follow-up book would be coming soon. In fact, November of that year, I passed the NaNo finish line with that very book. And then…nothing.

I promise I haven’t forgotten about it. Technically I have a finished rough draft of about 70K words (average for that particular series). I started going back through it immediately after completing it and found a lot of changes to be made. For starters, the first handful of chapters were written in a third instead of first person (don’t ask what I was thinking of there). At some point, I realized the book was going to be split into two, so I had some difficulty setting that into motion. I also found some of the scenes needed to be fleshed out considerably, including developing some of the ancillary characters a bit more. All par for the course when working off a rough draft.

But then I started adding new scenes and tweaking old ones, and I never really did like the end I had written. Knowing the editing was going to take more time than I first expected, I turned my attention to finishing up and releasing Together Alone, which was published in December of 2013 (busy year for me, I guess).

I fully intended to devote all my energy into World of Shadows at that point. It became the book I brought to my critique group and progress on it was going well…until I hit another wall.

I don’t believe in writer’s block. Okay, I acknowledge it can exist, but there are far too many ideas, plots and characters bouncing around in this noggin to get stuck in any one place for too long. But when trying to insert a particular chapter, stuck is exactly where I found myself. I’m not sure if it’s because I’d allowed too much time to pass and was having difficulty realigning with the characters or if the knowledge I had to completely rewrite the next chapter, but I found myself unable to proceed.

Deciding I needed a little break, I started working on The Blood Contract, thinking I wouldn’t get very far with it before returning back to finish up World of Shadows, which I was now playing around with calling The Shadow Without. I found myself in a groove and The Blood Contract was released in November of 2014.

Of course, I told myself at the time I would get back to finishing up The Shadow Without.

So here I am, nearly four months later, and all of my attention has been focused on finishing up AfterLife. As I said earlier, work on it is coming along nicely, if not as quickly as I would like. But the fact The Shadow Without is still sitting there unfinished gnaws at me. I just have to finish that troublesome chapter, rewrite the next and rework the end. Shouldn’t take me too long. I have little doubt I’ll be able to get it out in 2015 if I give it all of my attention.

But work on AfterLife is flowing so well….

My point after all this meandering is I leave the decision to you, my loyal readers. Would you rather I work on AfterLife or The Shadow Without? Are you eager to reach the end of the Only Human on the Block series or are you reluctant to say goodbye to those characters (though it may not exactly be the end for every character….)? Or are you tired of waiting to see just wait the Uracai have in store for humankind?

Thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

Failures And Silver Linings

How best to follow up a blog post boldly declaring I was going to hunker down and write, write, write this year, while maintaining better communication in the process? If you’re me, you wait several weeks to update your blog with an apology for having written very little!

I have a pocket full of excuses I can use to explain myself. My usual routine of writing on my lunch break has been disrupted because I’ve been covering somebody else’s shift. I haven’t been writing at home because my work space is a mess and needs to be organized. Even then, my cat loves it a little too much when I’m on my computer, and goes out of her way to make sure I accomplish as little as possible.

I’m sure I could generate a few more excuses, but that’s all they really are. Truth is, as much as I enjoy writing, sometimes I need a little break from it. Even that isn’t entirely true, as I’m technically always writing. My mind never stops working on the story, even when my fingers are on hiatus. And to be honest, this break has helped me fill in some of the gaps of the story, the how’s and why’s that take me from Point A to Point Z.

When I first started writing, I used to make plot outlines detailing each chapter. Despite that, I found the characters had a way of deviating from my plans and taking off on their own. This was problematic when I had the story so structured I hadn’t allowed for much wiggle room.

These days, I come up with the overall plot and characters then give myself certain waypoints in the storyline. For instance, I could have written the end of the Only Human on the Block series nine years ago when I first started coming up with the plot. I’d even be willing to say it’ll likely be word for word with my original imagining. But a lot of the events and characters leading up to all of this have shifted and changed over the years. Even now, so close to the end, I find the characters and world drawing me in directions I didn’t anticipate. Just in the past week, pieces of the puzzle mentally popped into place for me, bringing new insight as to just why some of the characters are going to do what I know needs to be done.

I prefer this method of writing over the more rigid style I tried earlier in my career, but it does have its drawbacks. I had a decent idea of what I wanted to do with The Shadow Walker (although I admit parts of that book took me by surprise) when I started, but the sequel, The Shadow Within, was written in an almost NaNo like fashion. I had a few vague scenes in mind and I just went for it.

The same holds true for the third book (tentatively titled The Shadow Without) but it’s not working to my advantage. The main structure of the book has been completed for some time now but there are still some missing puzzle pieces I’m not completely sure how to handle. And that could be because I only have a rough idea of what the fourth and final book will be, with no clear end in mind. I like flying by the seat of my pants when I write, but I think I could use a tad more structure when working on that series. As a result, I’ve been putting off finishing it up, even though I am technically far closer to completely the third book than I am AfterLife.

So what’s the point of this post? One, I wanted to let you know I still live. Hopefully I’ve accomplished that and this doesn’t read like I’m one of the undead. Two, I wanted to publicly flog myself for failing to meet my 50K per week pledge, while also reassuring my loyal readers I haven’t forgotten you.

Thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

Stocking Your E-Reader Sale

Get a shiny new Kindle for Christmas? Have winter break off and wondering what to do? Or perhaps you’re addicted to the printed word and just can’t get enough?

Behold, the second annual Stocking Your E-Reader Sale!

Courtesy of author Angela Kulig, you can find plenty of great reads here. Books range from free to $.99 and will be available from December 29th (today!) through January 2nd.

Just in time to stock up before returning to the grind.

And while you’re at it, sign up to receive some pretty nifty prizes, including an Amazon gift card and a Kindle Fire color, just waiting to be filled with some amazing books by some pretty amazing authors.

For my part, you can find all of the books for my two series on sale. That means The Shadow Walker, The Shadow Within, The Four-Year-Old Guardian, Bravado/Dramatique, Together Alone and the recently released The Blood Contract are all $.99 for the duration of the sale.

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

S.L. Madden

What’s Old Is New Again

First off, let me address the white elephant in the room: it’s now a week into October, and The Blood Contract still hasn’t gone live. I know I originally anticipated it would be released in June (I was so naïve in my youth), then said it should definitely be out by the end of September. So what happened?

Well, I’m still in the process of finishing up the cover, formatting it, and all those fun little final touches, but mostly, I’ve been waiting on a marked-up copy from my mother. She offered to proof it for me, but while in the process, she ended up hurting her back. Last I saw her, she was feeling pretty good on her pain meds, so I anticipate it won’t be long now (just take care of yourself, Mom! That’s far more important). Besides, an October release seems appropriate for this story.

In the meantime, I’ve been trying to keep my writery self busy. The current chapter of The Shadow Without has proven to be slow-going, I think because I’m not entirely sure what its purpose is. It’s an add-on to my original rough draft, and I know where I want it to go, but I’m having a hard time making it an engaging chapter on its own. Then, after that, I need to completely retool the next chapter and the ending. And that will finish up the rough draft. Whoo!

Also, I am now done reformatting my entire back catalog. I’ve made the fonts smaller on all of my books, which allowed me to shorten the length and reduce the price (in most cases. Oddly some stayed the same). In the case of Ascension, I was finally able to reduce the size from 6X9 to 5X8, to match the rest of my books. I haven’t yet decided whether I want to completely retire the 6X9 version, or if I want to release a big font version (if demand necessitates it). Also, after asking co-workers, friends and family about their preference between the matte and glossy covers, matte won out in a landslide. So all of my covers are now sporting that finish.

Ascension isn’t quite available through Amazon yet, but should be soon. The new versions of The Four-Year-Old Guardian, Bravado/Dramatique, Together Alone, The Shadow Walker, The Shadow Within are ready now.

And yes, soon The Blood Contract will be added to that list.

Thanks for reading,

S.L. Madden